After the grilling, we came through with our second feature (and the runaway winner in the voting – surprising not only me but also Anahita, who nominated it), a 2009 Italian-language film known as Io Sono L’Amore (“I Am Love”). The film was directed by Luca Guadagnino, and stars Tilda Swinton. According to wikipedia, the title comes from a line in an aria in the opera “Andrea Chénier”, which was playing in the background in one of the film’s scenes.
Yeah, it’s one of those type of films.
It’s a story that, in retrospect, is heavily tied up in food. In fact, the film begins at a lavish dinner party being thrown by a Milanese fashion dynasty, the Recchis.
It is at this dinner that the aging scion of the family decides to pass on control of the business to his son Tancredi.
Oh, and also to his grandson and namesake Eduardo, who really isn’t in position to be a cutthroat businessman quiet yet. Oh well.
Eduardo’s sister Kinda-Not-Appearing-In-This-Film Recchi and his younger brother Really-Not-Appearing-In-This-Film Recchi are passed over by both their grandfather and the screenwriter. To be fair, the sister has a subplot wherein she comes out as a lesbian to her mother, but outside of this allowing them to share a meaningful look at the end of the film, it’s pretty much a tacked-on subplot.
The main character in the film, however, is none of these. Instead it’s Tancredi’s wife (and the mother of all three children) Emma, a woman of Russian extraction married into this powerful family. One of the moviegoers expressed an interest in seeing an English actress speak Italian with a Russian accent. My impression after watching the movie is: “How would you tell?”
Eduardo decides that he wants to use some of his money to help fund his friend Antonio in his dream to start up a froo-froo restaurant on the top of the hill. Apparently the whole concept is to get people to drive up along a one-lane twisty dirt road to a beautiful picnic table where they get to feast on the fruits of the mountain itself. But apparently the garden isn’t so big, because the plates are a bit skimpy. When you have to eat your one shrimp with a knife and fork so that lunch lasts longer than 25 seconds, well… At any rate, Emma forgets the first rule of gastroamorosity, which is “If you’re going to fall in love over food, fall in love over more food than that.” And she totally falls for her son’s friend Antonio.
Naturally he falls for her, too, and they begin an affair. (Side note: 49-year-old Tilda Swinton is not a shy lady.) And they would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids!
I mean, they would have gotten away with it if she hadn’t given Antonio the family recipe for ukha, a Russian fish-based soup. But she does, and when Eduardo contracts Antonio to cater another family dinner, Antonio tries to please his lover by serving up some epic ukha. This, of course, is the clue to the affair that finally puts the pieces together for Eduardo, and they go outside for a confrontation.
And that’s when the movie takes a bit of a left turn. Eduardo, attempting to storm out on the argument, slips on the edge of the pool, hits his head, and the doctors can’t save him. This touches off a pretty quick crisis – following the funeral Emma confesses her affair to Tancredi, he kicks her out of the house, and in a frantic final scene that is perhaps a bit emotionally overcharged, she packs up her stuff and leaves, but not before sharing a meaningful glance with her daughter. They both have their “forbidden” loves, so in that sense they understand each other. The End.
Don’t get me wrong, despite what I said above. I often like those type of films. This one is certainly beautifully shot. And to some extent, I think you have to give it credit for – despite placing its characters into a dynastically-rich family – treating a human interest story with little of the typical fictional flairs that make novels best-sellers but don’t ring true. It’s hard to believe that a police inspector certainly working several cases a week would obsess for twenty-odd years over one escaped convict whose only crime in the first place was stealing bread. It’s hard to believe that a ship captain would spend his entire life searching out the whale that took his leg and even harder to believe that he would actually find it in a huge ocean. And that’s not even to mention the host of fantastical things that we might encounter in other stories, from hobbits to wizards to vampires to martians to ghosts to old soldiers that have plum come unstuck in time. So when a story comes out with perhaps a lower emotional resonance than many but without a single scene that relies on ridiculous coincidence, or on that bane of the realist story, the antagonist, it’s a noteworthy thing. This is a story that you can inherently believe happened, down to the son’s inability to read the various clues to his mother’s affair that were so tantalizing to the audience. So it’s got that going for it – it portrays life (albeit the life of the über-rich) with the banality that we who live lives know so well. But maybe it’s also easy for a story like that to fall a bit flat. Even reality TV shows know this; they deliberately choose outlandish and unstable people to star in their shows because – let’s face it – if they put a camera on you 24/7 the producer would be looking for a new gig before they could even cut the footage into a pilot. The final, frantic scene in Io Sono L’Amore adds some spice, but the journey feels like the long and drawn-out story that Ted Stryker might tell you from seat 31B (and without the notable references to Macho Grande). Sure, it’s believable, but is it entertaining?